Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out his dream at the March on Washington, those who flocked to the Mall on Wednesday in commemoration said his struggle for civil rights has blossomed into a broader movement encompassing gay, women’s, immigrants’ and animals’ rights.
“‘I have a dream that one day a little white boy and a little black girl can play together’ is the same as I have a dream that one day two people who love each other will be able to get married,” said Colin Smith, a gay-rights advocate from Silver Spring.
Mr. Smith, who held a poster displaying the equal sign symbol of the Human Rights Campaign, said the movement for gay rights is an extension of King’s message that everyone should have the same opportunities and that it would be a “disservice” if people did not use the anniversary as a way to rally together for all civil rights causes.
That sentiment was echoed from the main stage, where major figures from President Obama on down said the vision King laid out in the 1963 march was about more than just economic or voting rights for blacks, and now includes the fight against discrimination in health care, in employment and who can get married.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said King’s vision would even have encompassed granting congressional voting rights to the nation’s capital city.
In the crowd, Lupe Alvarado Switala said that the people carrying signs or wearing T-shirts at the commemoration may come from different groups, but they can stand in solidarity over one thing: anger.
“I’ve met the LGBT, the Dreamers, we’re all pissed off, we’re angry that the money speaks louder than we do,” she said, referring to gay-rights and immigrant-rights supporters. “We’re watching our rights being stripped away. We’re in the same shoes they were in back in 1963.”
Ms. Switala is a member of the group Stand With Texas Women and is a supporter of Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat who filibustered for 11 hours to block a bill for tougher abortion regulations in June.
“We all have a dream that we can make decisions for ourselves, that the Republican white men of America aren’t controlling our rights,” she said. “That’s what Martin Luther King was about — freedom.”
The activist group Code Pink used King’s message of anti-violence as a springboard to protest any military action or bombing in Syria.
“It’s what Martin Luther King would be talking about if he was here today,” said Leah Brown, a D.C. resident and member of the grass-roots women’s peace organization.
While Code Pink members held signs that read “Peace in Syria” and “Obama thinks he’s king but he’s no MLK,” supporters of immigration rights and the Dream Act marched through the crowd carrying signs that said, “No more deportations” and, “We define a citizen as someone who lives here, works here, goes to school here and contributes to this society.”
“King was fighting for black citizenship, now 11 million people under new Jim Crow laws are fighting for their citizenship today in the legacy of Dr. King,” said David Douglass, the national organizer for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary. “It’s not a day of remembrance. It’s a historic opportunity to march to realize Dr. King’s dream.”
Volunteers for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals came wearing shirts advocating for vegans’ rights. Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s senior vice president, said the group was invited to participate by the event’s organizers and wanted to show that equal rights should extend not just to all people, but to all creatures.
“Today, we have abolished human slavery, at least in theory. But, somehow, our blindness and our prejudice still allows us to continue to enslave all the others who happen not to be exactly like us,” Ms. Guillermo wrote in an email to The Washington Times.
Those who came without a special agenda said it’s a good thing for an expanding coalition of groups to adopt King’s message to work for other causes, even on such a historic anniversary.
“In the spirit of Martin Luther King, it’s all about inclusion. It’s not a black thing, it’s a civil thing,” said Cavaughn Noel, who traveled from New York City to attend the celebration because “Back then, they had to go through fire hoses to get out here. The least I can do is jump on a bus.”